Black Fridays
PublisherGerald Duckworth & Co Ltd
Date Published18 July 2013
Price£ 12.99

Black Fridays

by Michael Sears

Jason Stafford, an outstanding Wall Street trader, has just been released from prison, having been found guilty of fixing the books. He is unemployable in his former capacity and is grateful when the head of an investment firm asks him to look into problems caused by a trader who has recently died.


Two years previously Jason Stafford had been a top flight Wall Street trader, one who, apparently, could do no wrong. Then, during a less successful trading period he had decided to report only his profits. His losses he deferred for a time until his profits were able to cover them. When that plan failed, he got deeper and deeper into trouble and eventually found himself doing a two-year prison sentence for fraud. His position when he is released is desperate. He is unemployable in the only business he knows - Wall Street trading. He is divorced but is still obsessed with his wife; worst of all he has lost all contact with his autistic son.

When Stafford is approached by the chief financial officer of Weld Securities to carry out an investigation for them he is only too happy to take the (temporary) work. He is asked to look in detail at the activities of a young trader who had drowned in mysterious circumstances. As he examines the trading records and interviews people in the firm he comes to realise that he is involved in a huge financial scandal.

This part of the book, in which the author explains the details of the irregularity, is almost impossible to follow unless you’re familiar with the intricacies of market trading. However, it doesn’t seem to matter in the least as the story unfolds. Confronted by what appears to be a complex jigsaw with missing pieces, Stafford gradually begins to assemble it, realising that he is putting his life in danger as he does so. Events move rapidly to an exciting and always believable climax as those responsible for the scam are identified and finally brought to justice.

This is not, however, simply a story about the activities - all of them dubious in one way or another - of Wall Street traders. Equally interesting is Stafford himself and his attempts to remake his life after his prison sentence. He begins to see that he cannot hope to resume his married life, even though he still loves - it might be more accurate to say he is sexually obsessed by - his wife, Angie. Their divorce had been a purely technical thing designed to ensure that he was able to retain a large amount of his money by putting it in her hands, but it had become obvious to him whilst in prison that his wife was entirely mercenary and not to be trusted. Even worse in Stafford’s eyes is her failure to care properly for their autistic son, Jason junior, and he determines to take the boy from her and to accept total responsibility for him.

There is a very full description of the problems he faces in dealing with an autistic child, the details of which are so compelling that it doesn’t seem to impinge on the flow of the narrative at all. This makes the book very much a story of the redemption of a human being as well as a financial thriller. Stafford has an old friend in Roger to help him and he meets a woman whom he not only finds attractive but who also understands his situation and, in particular, his love for his son. It isn’t too difficult to see that these new relationships will form a part of Michael Sears’s new book Mortal Bonds, in which Stafford once again takes up the rôle of an investigator. Perhaps ‘Spud’, a junior trader at Weld Securities who helped Jason, will also figure in the new book.

Black Fridays was a nominee for Best First Novel in the 2013 Edgar Awards and if the second novel in the series is of the same quality it will be worth waiting for.

Reviewed 22 February 2014 by Arnold Taylor